Pope's Holy Thursday Mass Dedicated to Priests

Mar. 31: Pope Benedict XVI acknowledges the crowd in St. Peter's Square.

Mar. 31: Pope Benedict XVI acknowledges the crowd in St. Peter's Square.  (AP)

VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI urged priests to oppose violence as he led a ceremony dedicated to the priesthood Thursday, marking a Holy Week with his church buffeted by clergy sex abuse scandals.

"As priests, we are called in fellowship with Jesus Christ, to be men of peace, we are called to oppose violence and trust in the greater power of love," Benedict said in his Holy Thursday homily in St. Peter's Basilica. He made no mention of the scandals.

Spread out before him, in white robes, was row after row of priests, who responded in chorus to his chants in Latin. A choir of men and boys intoned solemn hymns.

The late morning Mass, the first of several appearances Benedict will make in the final days of Holy Week before Easter, was described by the Vatican as a sign of strict union between the pontiff in his role of pastor of the world's 1 billion Catholics and his fellow priests.

In the evening, Benedict will wash the feet of 12 priests -- a traditional sign of humility -- at a Holy Thursday ceremony in St. John Lateran Basilica in Rome.

Benedict began the morning Mass by sprinkling incense, in a purifying rite, around the central altar of St. Peter's.

Revelations of scandals involving pedophile priests have exploded across continental Europe this year, including when the pontiff was an archbishop in his native Germany. The myriad of reports come atop of years of allegations and court cases involving clergy abuse in schools, parishes and other church institutions in the United States, Ireland, Australia, Canada and elsewhere.

Victims are demanding that the pope take responsibility for what they say were decades of systematic cover-ups by church hierarchy of clergy abuse, including a widespread practice of transferring pedophile priests from one parish to another after allegations of rape or other sexual abuses were made.

They also want him to say what he did or didn't do while he was Munich archbishop and in the nearly two decades that he led the Vatican office dealing with sex abuse as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger during John Paul II's papacy. In one court case in the United States, plaintiff lawyers are working to get Benedict to testify, despite his diplomatic status as head of sovereign Vatican City State.

Church officials insist Benedict has cracked down on sex abuse both as pope and in his early tenure as a top Vatican cardinal. The pope in his foreign travels has met with sex abuse victims, and shortly before becoming pope in 2005, he denounced "filth" in the priesthood.

In his homily Thursday, Benedict said Christians "as good citizens" must "keep the law and do what is just and good," while not accepting "a wrong that is enshrined in law," citing as example legalized abortion.